United passenger dragged off jet got concussion, lawyer says

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The passenger dragged off a United Continental Holdings Inc. flight suffered a concussion, a broken nose and two lost teeth, one of his lawyers said Thursday.

The injured man’s legal team is investigating possible legal claims against the airline and will “probably” file a lawsuit, attorney Thomas Demetrio said. Video posted to social media showed passenger David Dao, 69, being pulled from his seat and dragged down the aisle of a plane after refusing to give up his spot on an April 9 flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky.

“For a long time, airlines, United in particular, have bullied us,” Demetrio said in a press conference in Chicago. “Rudeness, bullying of customers, has gone the next step now, to physical injury.”

Demetrio’s revelation of Dao’s injuries stepped up the pressure on United, which is still contending with the fallout from a public-relations fiasco that erupted on social media worldwide. Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz initially called Dao “disruptive” and “belligerent” and apologized only for the need to “re-accommodate” him. Munoz later struck a more contrite tone and went on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Wednesday to vow that nothing like the violent incident would ever happen again on a United flight.

While it was right for Munoz to apologize on national television for the incident, Demetrio called the apology “staged” at the urging of public relations advisers.

United response

Megan McCarthy, a spokeswoman for United, declined to respond to that characterization. Munoz and the company called Dao “on numerous occasions” to apologize, contradicting an assertion by Demetrio that they hadn’t, according to a statement from the airline following the press conference.

The Chicago-based company also reiterated that it is taking steps to prevent future incidents, including committing to only asking law enforcement to remove passengers in matters of safety and security.

“This horrible situation has provided a harsh learning experience from which we will take immediate, concrete action,” United said in the statement. “We have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again.”

Reconstructive surgery

Dao, who was discharged from the hospital Thursday, also suffered injury to his sinuses and will need reconstructive surgery, Demetrio said. Dao, a doctor, had to return to Louisville to see patients, Demetrio said. His wife, who is also a doctor and was on the flight, also had patients to see, the lawyer said. They were returning home from a vacation in California.

Crystal Pepper, Dao’s daughter, said the whole family was “shocked and sickened to learn what had happened to him.”

Dao, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam in 1975 during the fall of Saigon, said being dragged down the airplane aisle was “more horrifying” than what he experienced leaving Vietnam, Demetrio said.

The city of Chicago, for whom the officers worked, is also responsible. “Were these three officers, these storm troopers, doing the right thing? No,” Demetrio said.

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